We just winged it! It’s probably not the best way to approach a holiday in the desert with a 4 and 6 year old and during the peak tourism season. But that’s how we ‘rolled’ this trip! We landed in Windhoek on a very cold winter’s night and exited the warm and cozy jet cabin, into a brain freezing desert type cold! Our Malawian-accustomed blood seemed to go into a state of semi shock. I could feel my toes curling inwards, scared out of their wits knowing what was coming our way…a camping trip.
On the plane, I had sat next to a friendly lady who offered free advice about the country. It occurred to me that in the rush of meeting deadlines in Malawi, be it work and homeschooling, I had allowed for very little time to research the country we had just landed in! I was told that the best seafood can be found at the Mug and Bean in Windhoek, a couple hundred kilometers from the coast. And it was then that I really regretted not having bought a Lonely Planet guide for Namibia at the Johannesburg airport, envisioning our little family lost deep in a maze of sand dunes sucking on drops of dew from Welwitschia plants while waiting to be found!
We loaded our heavy bags into a minibus tourist taxi service. We waited for a good 20 minutes for our driver ‘Gert’ to return from paying an airport parking fine before commencing on our journey. In the bus we met a single Belgium backpacker, still hung-over from a farewell party the night before and quite nervous about the journey she was about to embark on…especially about entering the ‘gantsta lands’of Cape Town after her Namibian tour. We spent the 45 minute trip from the airport to Windhoek tipping the tourist about travel in Africa…forgetting that we too were tourists…and quite unprepared tourists at that!!!
We arrived at our B+B late at night. And there before us on a coffee table, lay a pile of pamphlets as well as a map of Namibia with suggested camping sites. We’d booked a fully-equipped double cab van with tents on top. The plan was to drive up to Etosha and then mosey on down either via the Skeleton Coast or down the inland mountainous region from Etosha to the Brandberg Mountain and then on to Swakopmund. We decided to go the mountainous route…
We’ve lived in Malawi for a year now. It’s a highly populated country, with no chance of a private pee in the bush or a stretch of road that is hard not to collide into a bicycle, goat, chicken or cow. So when we threw distance from the city of Windhoek and the vast Namibian landscape began to open up, the surprise and wonder hit me like a child on Christmas day. I felt an instant connection to a foreign lonely land, a land undeniably captivating and beautiful. I knew at once that I’d become a statistic – I’d return; just like over half of Namibia’s tourists do.
We thought we’d make it to Etosha Park from Windhoek in one day – which is very reasonable, only we left Windhoek at 12pm after spending the morning planning a route and stocking up on food supplies! We got halfway and noticed the sun beginning to dip, casting a golden light over a boundless land. Speeding to our destination would be no good, not with the large numbers of warthog and fury baboon casually crossing the road. We also couldn’t escape the whining in the backseat and the bickering over a single dinky car – whose turn it would be next to scrape the wheels over the windows of our hired car? That’s about when we realized we’d forgotten to pack toys for the 3000 km trip we had only just embarked on. Thankfully, soon after – we spotted a big sign that looked quite smart saying ‘Africat.’ We decided to stop there.
“AfriCat provides an environment for previously non-releasable large carnivores to hone their hunting skills in a 20 000-hectare (50 000 acre) (200km²) nature reserve, on Okonjima. Carnivores learn to become self-sustaining which gives them the opportunity to return to their natural environment.” – Africat Namibia
See Africat Website
Lucky for us, there was just one camping spot left. Note – try and book ahead if you are planning to stay at these well-known places such as Africat and Etosha Park. August is peak season in Namibia – don’t assume, as we did, there will always be space in a campsite!
We were escorted by the park ranger riding a quad bike to our own private campsite tucked away in the the Omboroko hills overlooking the vast plains of Northern Namibia. We formulated our camp routine, designating duties to certain family members! Basically, mom and dad do everything while the kids race around the campsite like raucous wild animals scaring the pants off any nearby wildlife. My husband would become the tent erector and I would take charge of shower time for the kids. Then we’d start up a fire and cook some meat and potatoes, followed by a beer and wine! And flame-charred marshmallows for the kids – if they ate all their vegetables! It was the first night of our camping road trip…and by far, the coldest!
Although I had failed hopelessly when it came to doing research prior to the trip – I can say I was organized in other areas! For instance – I’d heard it gets pretty chilly in the desert at night and having a family that is well adapted to a hot climate, I knew being cold at night would be a monumental crisis! So I came with snow suits! Of all places, I bought them at the ‘Bend-down and Scratch Boutique Markets’ in Malawi. (All you folk from Denmark, Norway and Sweden – I’d just like to thank you for your clothing donations – all your winter gear comes to one of the hottest countries I’ve lived in and it’s good to know that snow suits in the desert were very handy!) That night there was heavy snowfall in neighbouring South Africa and outside our tent, the temperature was an almost freezing 4 degrees – which is much like sending an African to sleep in an igloo!
The next morning, we rose early…mostly because we were bloody freezing and secondly, Etosha Park was calling.
We brewed a couple mugs of coffee on the fire and watched a spectacular sunrise, marking the beginning of many, many breath taking moments. We folded the tents up, loaded the kids, pumped up the heater and set off – thawing slowly and heading north to warmer territory!
3 hours later we arrived at Anderson’s Gate in Etosha Park. The gate guard asked us ‘where in the park have you booked?’
‘Nowhere’, we said, ‘but I’m sure we’ll find somewhere!’
” The seeker embarks on a journey to find what he wants and discovers, along the way, what he needs.” – Wally Lamb